Category :

muffin of the month, october 2017: vegan apple cider muffins

previous monthly muffins:

6/17, balsamic roasted strawberry muffins with balsamic glaze || 4/17, cinnamon raisin english muffins || 2/17, glazed lemon poppyseed muffins || 1/17, earl grey walnut muffins || 12/16, chocolate peppermint muffins



Two years ago, I went to a pie workshop at a bakery in my city known for pies and tarts. Of course, it being the beginning of fall, we had to make apple pie, for which the pastry chef demonstrated this super nifty tool that I went out and bought immediately: a hand-crank apple corer, peeler, and slicer. You spike the apple onto the end of a screw, position the peeling blade, and crank. The apple spins, strips, spirals, and its guts pull right out. It’s wonderful.

When I first bought it, I hated it. The one I bought didn’t seem to work as well as the machine the pastry chef showed us. The peeling blade would either not cut through the skin or it would get stuck in the apple, the core never lined up with the corer blade, and for the life of me I could not figure out how to get an asymmetrical apple to peel and core consistently.



So I put the machine away for about two years, and when I started working on this muffin recipe, I thought I would give it a second chance.

It worked like a charm. Perhaps the little hand crank doohickey grew and matured and learned to be a better version of itself…or maybe I realized it’s easier to use if you flip the apple around and peel tail-to-top instead.

Now I don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on an electric apple machine. Phew.



This recipe was inspired by a pastry we sell and sample at work during the week: apple cider donuts. The donuts are made with butter, buttermilk, and eggs (and they taste like heaven and make the whole store and street smell like apples and cinnamon), but following my obsession with consistency and matching up flavors, I wanted to go full-apple. Eggs became unsweetened apple sauce (the best vegan egg substitute I have ever used), and buttermilk became first-press apple cider. While I was already 2/3 of the way to a vegan recipe, I decided to take that last step: butter became canola oil.

Yes, butter and buttermilk are luscious and make things taste rich, but apple cider has enough acid for that back-of-the-tongue tang and there’s plenty of sweet and spice to make up for the decrease in fat.

The muffins are spiced, filled with chunks of Red Delicious apples, and then rolled in a cinnamon-sugar topping.



vegan apple cider muffins with cinnamon sugar

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

makes 1 dozen


5 oz (140 g) all-purpose flour

5 oz (140 g) whole wheat flour

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

3 oz (85 g) canola oil

3 oz (85 g) unsweetened apple sauce

7 oz (200 g) apple cider

3 oz (85 g) granulated sugar

2 oz (56 g) dark brown sugar

1 large red apple, cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped (5~7 oz of apple bits)


cinnamon sugar coating

1 oz (28 g) granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp canola oil


Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together apple sauce, canola oil, apple cider, and sugars.

Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and fold in the apple chunks.

Scoop the batter into the muffin cups so each cup is 2/3~3/4 of the way full.

Bake the muffins for 25 – 30 minutes, until springy to the touch. When lightly pressed down in the center with a finger, the muffins should spring back up like foam.

Remove the muffins from the oven and let them cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling before coating.

In a shallow bowl or plate, whisk together sugar and cinnamon for coating the muffins.

Brush each muffin with canola oil and roll the top of the muffin around in the sugar mixture to coat.

Muffins will keep up to 48 hours wrapped in plastic at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate the muffins, or else the coating will melt/dissolve. If they firm up, you can soften them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.


Help, I’ve fallen in love with apples and I can’t get up!

Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, Breads, muffins, seasonal produce, Vegan

decadent vegan chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry-sherry compôte

I’m not generally a fan of chocolate cake, unless it is 1) flourless, or 2) molten. In fact, I even prefer my brownies on the less-floury side.

(Speaking of brownies, peek these bad-a** brownies: gluten-free brownies, cardamom brownies, and fudgy coffee brownies)


That being said, I’m oddly addicted to this vegan chocolate cake. For a while, I’ve been wanting to experiment with using vegan ingredients as features instead of just background ingredients. I’m in the process of working up another vegan muffin for the autumn that uses whole ingredients both for flavor and for function.

I’m also shamelessly obsessed with combining dark chocolate and fruit, namely raspberry.



There’s a dairy farm nearby that has a creamery and ice cream shop on the premises. In high school, when I was learning to drive, I would drive out to the farm for practice, and my dad and I would get milkshakes for dessert. Because of complicated, lactose-related reasons, I don’t get those milkshakes very often anymore, but they were a fond memory back then. My favorites were all the chocolate combinations: chocolate-strawberry, chocolate-orange, even the chocolate-lavender was weirdly enjoyable. It seemed like every time we went to the farm, they had tried out a new chocolate flavor combination, and I loved all of them.

I think it goes without saying that chocolate and raspberry is a classic combination…but I’ll say it anyway: chocolate and raspberry is fan-f**king-tastically classic combination.



With this inspiration, I took a vegan chocolate layer cake recipe, turned it into a single layer cake, added red wine vinegar, non-dairy dark chocolate ganache, and a raspberry-sherry compote*. Every single bit of the recipe works together in luscious harmony: the cake is light, but also dark, and slightly tangy from the vinegar, wet enough to be enjoyable, but fluffy enough that it’s not heavy; the ganache is dark and smooth, no matter what type of milk you use, and has just enough sweetness to be pleasant without detracting from the darkness; the compote is sweet and fruity, not overly acidic, and it has the mmmmmmmm of an after-dinner sherry. If all of that seems like too much mouth commitment, top the cake with some fresh raspberries for a refreshing balance to the chocolate and booze.



*You can swap out the sherry for really any kind of liquor or liqueur, or red wine. I just found that the sherry was my favorite booze to use in the compôte. Substitute your favorite Cabernet or Pinot Noir in a 1:1 ratio, for example.



decadent vegan chocolate cake with chocolate ganache and raspberry-sherry compôte

makes one 9″ (or two 6″~6.5″) cake

adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking

Do ahead: To save some time, you can make the compôte in advance and keep refrigerated in a sealed container. Because it’s a sauce (it’s basically undercooked jam), it’ll keep for a while. Additionally, you can make the cake a day in advance, let it cool, wrap it in plastic, and store it in the refrigerator overnight. And the make things even easier: the cake can also be made in advance. You can make the cake a day or two ahead of time and keep it in the fridge wrapped in plastic, or you can make it farther in advance, wrap it, and freeze it.

Ganache note: Ganache is just a combination of solid chocolate and cream (or any type of milk, dairy or non-dairy); you can have a really thick, solid ganache by using more chocolate than cream, or a thin, syrup-y mixture by using more cream than chocolate. It’s a really simple recipe (2 ingredients), and you can fine-tune the ratio depending on what consistency you want. A 1:1 ratio, though, will be more frosting-like or thinner than what I used for the cake. For toppings on pies and cakes, I’d recommend using less cream/milk than chocolate.



1.5 c (6.4 oz) raspberries, fresh or frozen*

1/4 c (1.75 oz) granulated sugar

1 fl. oz. (1 oz) sherry

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste


*Fruit note: when you freeze fruit and then cook/bake with it, or when you buy frozen fruit and then cook/bake with it, be aware that the fruit will produce more liquid/water than when you use the fruit fresh. Also, the frozen fruit will break down more when it starts to cook. For sauces and jams, this means 1) you’ll need to cook just a bit longer to evaporate the excess liquid, and 2) you’ll have fewer large chunks of the fruit due to the fruit breaking down more.



1.5 c (6.4 oz) all-purpose flour

3/4 c (5.3 oz) granulated sugar

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp baking soda

1/3 c (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1/2 c (3 oz) vegetable/canola oil

4 tsp (0.7 oz) red wine vinegar

1 c (8 oz) non-dairy milk

Optional: 1/2 c vegan chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chunks, 1/2 c (~2 oz) fresh raspberries



2/3 c (4 oz) bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped coarsely

3/8 c (3 oz) non-dairy milk or unflavored, non-dairy cream


Make the compôte

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat.

Bring to a rolling boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. If the sauce boils up too high or starts sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning, reduce the heat and simmer instead.

Let the sauce thicken and reduce, remove from heat, and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer the sauce to a container with a lid and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


Make the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease cake pan(s) and line with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together vanilla, oil, vinegar, and non-dairy milk until fully combined.

Add dry mixture to the wet mixture and combine. If using, fold in the chocolate chips/chunks and fresh raspberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan(s) and spread out evenly.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top is not shiny any longer and the cake feels springy and foamy to the touch. The cake is also done when it starts pulling away from the edges of the pan or when a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let finish cooling on a wire rack. When the cake has totally cooled down, start making the ganache.


Make the ganache and assemble the cake

Using a double boiler or a heat-safe bowl and small saucepan*, melt the chocolate and non-dairy milk together.

*There are many different methods of heating and combining the ingredients. You can microwave them together in a microwave-safe bowl, then whisk. You can boil/simmer the cream and pour it over the chocolate, then whisk. You can even microwave the cream and pour it over the chocolate. I usually make a double boiler out of a saucepan and metal or glass bowl, because I can make sure I’ll get enough heat in the ingredients for the chocolate to fully melt.

Combine the solid chocolate and non-dairy milk in the heat-safe bowl or the upper part of the double boiler, and fill the saucepan or lower part of the double boiler with about an inch or a centimeter of water. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Place the bowl or double boiler on top so the steam heat melts the chocolate. Whisk the mixture occasionally.

When the chocolate is almost entirely melted into the milk, remove the double boiler from the heat, and whisk vigorously until the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth.

Pour the ganache over the cooled cake and spread out evenly so it covers the top and drips down the sides. Let the ganache cool and solidify, either on the counter or in the refrigerator (it doesn’t need to be wrapped or covered), before serving.

Serve the cake with the raspberry sauce and some more fresh berries.

The cake lasts for a few days covered in plastic and stored in the refrigerator.


Choco-later, y’all!

Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, booze, cake, seasonal produce, Vegan

chicken piccata


I occasionally work at a cooking school. By “occasionally,” I mean I used to work in a cooking school, but with a recent promotion (heyyyyy) I work almost exclusively on the retail floor (as a manager) at a store that contains the cooking school.

But this is a story about the cooking school.



There are tons of different classes taught in this kitchen, but the most common themes are French and Italian. It was during my first year at this store that I encountered…nay, heard of chicken piccata for the first time. Less popular this year for some reason, chicken piccata used to be the recipe du jour of the Italian-themed summer classes. I was working in the kitchen during one such class and there was an excess of the entree after the students were done, so I was able to sample a little bit.

Just one bite and I was in love. (Sorry, cardamom, but I’m a capers dude now.)

Such a simple recipe, and yet so intriguingly delicious. No wonder it was all the rage. In fact, until I attempted chicken piccata months later, following Giada’s recipe first, I had never made anything like it. The only meat I had ever seared up until that point was steak, which I always, always followed with garlic, rosemary, butter, and red wine. Never before had I dredged a piece of protein, let alone braised it in its own fat.



My first time making chicken piccata, and admittedly my second, third, and fourth times, I was not quite satisfied, but I was obsessed with figuring out how to make what I had tasted in that cooking class kitchen over the summer. I bothered chefs for advice, read every recipe on the Internet, and watched videos until I fell asleep, and I just kept making chicken piccata.

My mom’s family is from the Midwest, and if we’re talking bloodlines and ethnicity, they’re Portuguese (kind of.) They’re seven-layer-salad Midwest, Swedish meatballs Midwest (hint: I’ve finally perfected my take on Magnus Nilsson’s Swedish meatballs and you can expect a post about that in the new year.) Despite the mix of Scandinavian and Portuguese-ish heritage, it came about that when my mom’s family visits, I make Italian food. Why? The first time they visited after I moved home, I desperately wanted to perfect and show off my focaccia recipe. Subsequent visits involved attempts at chicken piccata, homemade ravioli, and recently, even chicken cacciatore. Basically, timing. Also, they always visit in the summer, which means basil and tomatoes, and thus, all things caprese.

Also also, my aunt owns a farm and an organic bed and breakfast in Spain, where she not only raises her own animals and provides her own ingredients for her B&B kitchen, but she also picks and presses her own olives. About a year and a half ago, she came to us with easily a gallon of first-press Spanish olive oil from her farm, and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to make sourdough focaccia, caprese salads (with our own basil and farmer’s market tomatoes), handmade pasta, and my two new favorite chicken dishes with my aunt’s own olive oil.



Thus, in a family with only one Italian person through marriage on my dad’s side, I make Italian food for my mom’s relatives.

And if you ever visit, I’ll make some for you. But for now, here’s a simple, Italian-esque chicken recipe: chicken piccata.

If you peek around on the internet, you’ll find a few different definitions of piccata and even a few different rules about what a real chicken piccata contains, but generally, the word refers to a meat breaded and cooked in a butter sauce. With chicken, the common flavor is lemon, and the favored addition are capers. More commonly, you see veal piccata (and veal marsala, but that’s a post for another year.) With dishes made in the same way as chicken piccata, you don’t need to dredge the meat, but traditionally, piccata is made with breaded cutlets, and the flour from the meat helps indirectly thicken the sauce (like a dissembled roux.)



The most important things I’ve discovered over the past year and some months of making this recipe are:

  1. Save the butter for last, or else it’ll burn before the sauce is done. Use vegetable oil or light olive oil for the searing.
  2. Add just enough lemon juice that you can definitely taste the lemon, but don’t substitute the lemon for the chicken stock, or the sauce will be too sour.
  3. Most chicken piccata recipes move through the steps rapidly (like when you’re doing a seared steak with wine reduction), but treating the recipe more like a braised meat really makes a different: let the wine reduce, let the sauce cook for a while, and finish the meat in the sauce instead of the oven, so that it doesn’t dry out.


chicken piccata

serves 4

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis


1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thigh

coarse sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

3~4 Tbsp canola oil or light, refined olive oil

1/4 c all-purpose flour

extra-virgin olive oil or more light olive oil, as needed

1/3 c (~3 oz) lemon juice

1/4 c (2 oz) dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot, or even white cooking wine

1/2 c (4 oz) unsalted chicken stock

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp capers, drained (NOT rinsed)

Fresh parsley, chopped coarsely, to garnish


An hour or more before you’re ready to start, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Rest the chicken on a plate or cookie sheet between paper towels to dry.

If you’re using chicken breasts, I recommend butterflying them: lay the breast flat on a cutting board, and holding a long, sharp knife with the flat side parallel to the board, slice through the meat and open it flat like a book.

It’s also worth tenderizing the chicken breasts. Chicken thighs are already thin and tender, so you can skip ahead if you’re only using thighs. Wrap the chicken breasts, butterflied or not, in plastic or parchment paper, lay on a cutting board, and using a meat mallet, empty wine bottle, meat stamp, or rolling pin, roll or pound the chicken out until it becomes thinner and wider. Let the breasts rest on the paper towels to dry and warm up.

If you’re using chicken thighs, unravel them and lay them flat on the paper towels.

Heat a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high. For 1 pound of meat, a skillet measuring 10 inches or wider is ideal, but you can cook the chicken in batches, so a smaller skillet or a larger recipe will work just as well.

In a shallow serving dish or plate, combine salt, pepper, and all-purpose flour and whisk with a fork.

Once the skillet has been heating for about 10-15 minutes, add a few tablespoons of canola or light olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. There are a few ways to determine when your oil is hot: if you tilt the pan and the oil runs like water (the viscosity is thin); if you tilt the pan so the oil pools on one side, and then stick the end of a wooden utensil in the pool and see bubbles like you’re deep-frying the utensil; or if the oil is starting to smoke. Additionally, you can flick a little bit of the all-purpose flour into the pan and see if it bubbles and fries.

Dredge each piece of chicken, covering it in a light coating of seasoned flour on every side, edge, and in the nooks and crannies, then gently lay the chicken in the smoking oil. If you don’t immediately hear a sizzle, turn up the heat a bit and wait a few minutes before proceeding. You can do the chicken in multiple batches: keep the raw chicken between the paper towels until you’re ready to dredge and fry it.

Sear each piece of chicken on both sides*, until nicely bronzed. Once seared on both sides, remove each piece of chicken and set aside on a clean plate or in a clean bowl. Repeat with all of the chicken.

*When searing, I use the mantra, “set it and forget it…for a few minutes.” Don’t mess with the protein! Set it gently into the hot oil, let it sizzle, and let it brown for a few minutes. The meat will stick to the pan at first, and then gradually release as it sears up. Additionally, “golden brown” is the common phrase, but darker than gold is ideal, hence “nicely bronzed.” A bronze/copper color is the way to go.

You can do both thighs and breasts simultaneously.

Once all the chicken is seared off, lower the heat on the pan to medium-low and add the extra virgin olive oil (or light olive oil.) Let the oil heat for a few minutes, then pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits along the bottom. Simmer and reduce the wine a little bit, cooking for about 10-15 minutes.

Whisk in the lemon juice and chicken stock, and let simmer and thicken for about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, wine, lemon juice, or stock. The sauce should be tart and flavorful but not purely lemon-y.

Add the chicken back to the pan, then add the butter and capers. Cover and let the chicken simmer in the sauce for about 10 – 15 minutes, until cooked through and ready to serve. Taste occasionally for seasoning. The sauce should end up lemon-y and buttery but not painfully acidic.

Serve the chicken and sauce over pasta or on its own.


Buon Appetito!

Nick P.

Categories: booze, meats, savory